McWay Falls Big Sur

McWay Falls,

McWay Falls

McWay Falls is a beautiful and remarkable waterfall dropping into an untouched cove on the California coast. McWay Falls is the star of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and one of the most iconic attractions along the Pacific Coast Highway.

What sets McWay Falls apart from other waterfalls? Unlike most waterfalls, which are just a drop along the course of a creek or stream, McWay Falls plunges straight down to the beach in McWay Cove. The image of McWay Falls dropping to the beach can only be described as paradise.

In years past, the 80-foot waterfall landed right in the ocean. A 1983 landslide deposited sand at the base of the waterfall and created the sandy cove seen today beside McWay Falls. Now McWay Falls only kisses the ocean when high tide waves roll ashore. Because it is capable of spilling right into the ocean, McWay Falls can be categorized as a "tidefalls," making it a rare attraction.

McWay Falls gets its name from Christopher McWay, an early pioneer in Big Sur.

McWay Falls California© Photos by Seth Smigelski    

See McWay Falls For Yourself

McWay Falls is on the west side of Highway 1, across from most of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Pull into the park for the opportunity to see more beauty (like Canyon Falls in the creek above McWay Falls). If you can't stay long, make your way to Waterfall Overlook Trail. Parking was once available along Highway One, but the state park preferes that you turn off the highway into the park and set out from the parking area for the 0.3-mile hike to McWay Falls. While seeing some Big Sur wonders require strenuous hiking, McWay Falls can be admired with minimal effort.

An overlook is perched above the ocean at trail's end, delivering a breathtaking perspective of McWay Falls. It is such a beautiful sight, you won't want to leave.

Read more about the McWay Falls hike!

Directions To McWay Falls

Unless landslides have closed Highway One (it happens), McWay Falls is easy to get to on a drive along the Big Sur Coast.

The waterfall is 93 miles north of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo and 11 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Big Sur (which has a similar name to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but is actually a different park (with a fun gorge hike).

Plug in these coordinates to navigate to the trailhead:
36.1586, -121.67055
36°09'31"N 121°40'14"W

A few notes:

  1. Stay on the trail. McWay Falls and the beach at McWay Cove are off-limits to visitors. This cliffs are steep and dangerous. If you want to get down to the ocean, check out nearby Partington Cove
  2. Pets (excluding service animals) are not permitted on the trail to McWay Falls.
  3. Drones are not allowed.
  4. The vehicle entrance fee for Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is $10.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is open! The park was struck by severe storm damage in March of 2019, which temporarily closed Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and changed the access to McWay Falls. The park closed again in 2023 due to road closures caused by landslides on Highway One.

Update May, 2024: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is open, but Highway One remains closed about 5 miles south of the park (Limekiln State Park remains closed). Highway One is expected to reopen in full in the fall of 2024. Information about current highway closures and conditions please can be found through CalTrans - Road Conditions Map and on the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park website.